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First case of monkeypox virus confirmed in east of Ireland

Another suspected case is being investigated as health officials await test results


No known case has been diagnosed in the Republic but experts predict an infection is extremely likely. Stock image

No known case has been diagnosed in the Republic but experts predict an infection is extremely likely. Stock image

No known case has been diagnosed in the Republic but experts predict an infection is extremely likely. Stock image

The first case of the monkeypox virus has been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland.

Another suspected case of the disease is also being investigated and health officials are awaiting test results. 

The confirmed and suspect case of monkeypox virus are believed to have presented to two separate hospital emergency departments in recent days.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said it was notified last night that a case of monkeypox has been discovered in the east of the country. 

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Dr Mick Molloy, emergency consultant in University Hospital Waterford, said emergency doctors have been informed to be alert for patients with possible symptoms.

He said he knew of two suspect cases, who came to two different emergency departments in recent days.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed the first case had been found in Ireland but said importantly the disease is not airborne.

Minister Donnelly said: "The public health doctors I am talking to are very much taking monkeypox within the stride of normal public health measures.”

The minister, who was attending the AGM of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said: ”I think it is important to say that while it is quite a sobering name, monkeypox, the advice is that for the overwhelming majority of people, the symptoms are quite mild."

The HSE has ordered a third-generation small pox vaccine which can reduce the risk of monkeypox and it is due here shortly.

Some people who are immunocompromised may be more vulnerable to the virus, Minister Donnelly said.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has given advice on the use of smallpox vaccine in relation to monkeypox.

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It can be administered to healthcare workers who might be providing care to patients, identified cases, and to higher risk close contacts of those cases

Dr Molloy, who was also speaking to reporters at the IMO AGM said the HSE has now a good network in place around infectious disease alerts following Covid-19 and he believed Ireland could see very few cases.

It is self-limiting in most cases.

Good contact tracing was important in stopping spread, he added. There is just one lab in Dublin doing the testing for monkeypox and it is not available at weekends.

In a statement, the Health Service Executive (HSE) said the person who has the virus in the east of the country has not been hospitalised. 

The statement added: “The HPSC was notified last night of a confirmed case of monkeypox in Ireland, in the east of the country. This person has not been hospitalised. This was not unexpected following the presence of monkeypox cases in the UK and many European countries.

“Public Health is following up those who had close contact with the person with monkeypox while they were infectious. In order to maintain patient confidentiality, no further information about this person will be provided.

“A suspected case is also being investigated and test results are awaited. A public health risk assessment has been undertaken, and those who were in contact with the person are being advised on what to do in the event that they become ill.

“The case in Ireland comes after the reporting of more than two hundred other confirmed cases of monkeypox worldwide over recent weeks, including from the UK (with one case recently reported in Northern Ireland.”

Monkeypox is endemic in African countries but recently it has spread to non-endemic countries in Europe and the United States. 

There are two types of monkeypox: West African monkeypox and Congo Basin monkeypox. It is the milder, West African, type that is causing the current outbreak

It causes symptoms such as fever, aches, and a distinctive bumpy rash.

There have been more than 200 confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox in around 10 countries where it wasn’t previously circulating. 

The HSE statement continued: “A multidisciplinary Incident Management Team was established by the HSE when the international alert was first raised and commenced activities to prepare for cases in Ireland.

"The IMT will continue to actively monitor this evolving international situation. To assist in Ireland’s response, monkeypox has been made a notifiable disease. This means that medical practitioners (and laboratories) are required to notify the local Medical Officer of Health/Director of Public Health of monkeypox cases in Ireland.”

Monkeypox infection is usually a self-limiting illness and most people recover within weeks, although severe illness can occur in people with very weak immune systems, pregnant women and in very small babies. Severe illness and death outside Africa are unlikely. 

Infectious disease specialist Dr Jack Lambert said there should be no cause for panic because monkeypox is not much more serious than chickenpox. 

He added: “However, the panic is if it was a more dangerous pox virus because it spread quite tremendously from Africa all the way through multiple continents in a short period of time, so that’s an eye-opener. 

"We worried about ebola, then covid and now monkeypox, so what’s next.”

Dr Lambert said “it's a bit of a puzzle” how it has spread so fast but it isn’t a concern medically in terms of significant illness from it. 

"Previously it was only in Africa, and now it is spreading through different continents,” he added on RTÉ Radio One’s The Brendan O’Connor Show.

"They don’t get very sick with this. In Africa there was a couple of thousand cases and the mortality was one in 200 or less. 

"It’s not zero but it’s not like ebola that could be up to 70pc mortality.”

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